Rooted in Freedom #2
Text: Galatians 3
To begin this message, I want to take you on a little trip back to first century Jerusalem, to Herod’s Temple. Herod’s Temple was the second temple built by the Jews after their first Temple, Solomon’s Temple, was destroyed in the Babylonian invasion in about 586BC. Herod’s Temple was the Temple that Jesus visited during his lifetime. Work on the temple actually started only a decade or so before Jesus was born, and was mostly completed by the time he began his ministry as an adult. I want to show you some pictures from the Temple of Jesus’ time so that you can visually understand more clearly just how radical the message that we will be looking at this morning would have been to seekers of God during that era. Our message this morning is entitled, “Free for All”, and it is our second message on Christian Freedom from the book of Galatians.
This is an model of Herod’s Temple built by Alec Garrard of Norfol, England. Mr. Garrard spent 30 years of his life building this accurate, to-scale replication of the Temple that has been recognized by archeologists as the most accurate in the world. What I want you to notice is how the Temple complex is divided up into sections.
The tallest structure, the Holy of Holies was the most important area in the Temple. This area signified where God once manifested his presence. It was his throne room, and could only be entered into once a year by the high priest on the Day of Atonement when he would make a sacrifice for the sins of the people. Outside of the Holy of Holies was “the court of the priests”, the area where the priests ministered. The next area, just inside the large door that the arrow is pointing to was the Court of the Israelites. This was a narrow (only about five meters wide) strip inside of the door where the men of the nation of Israel could bring their sacrifices to the priests and watch them as they offered them to God. The large courtyard outside of that door was called, the court of women, for that is as far as any women could enter into the Temple Complex. No woman was aloud inside the door. Finally, we come to the largest court within the Temple Complex, which surrounded it on both sides, “The Court of the Gentiles”. It was here where Gentiles who were interested in the God of Israel could come and learn and worship, but they could come no closer to the God of Heaven than the wall. The only way for a Gentile to come any closer to God would be to take the ultimate step of conversion to Judaism – circumcision. Only then could he enter further in.
The Temple, then, served as a concrete representation of the Worldview that the ancient Israelites shared during the time of Jesus and the early church. I’ve illustrated that worldview on this slide. The Jews believed that they, as God’s chosen people, had received all of the blessings of God. They viewed circumcision as a wall, which distinguished them with a unique identity while keeping the Gentile masses out. If a Gentile were really interested in coming to God, they could (at least the men could) prove their commitment to the Lord by being circumcised and then, and only then, could they enter into all the blessings of having a relationship with God. It was common practice for a Jewish man to add to his morning prayers, “Thank you, God, for not making me a Gentile, woman or a slave.”
In Galatians 3-4, Paul takes the heart of that arrogant, exclusionary worldview to task. At stake was the unity of the new movement of Jews and Gentiles who followed Jesus as Lord. The question: Would Gentile believers remain second-class citizens in the church unless they became Jewish, or were they free to remain as Gentiles? Last week, we looked at this issue from a theological perspective: what does it mean for us to trust only Jesus for our salvation? This week, we are led to look at this issue from a sociological perspective: since the Gospel is free, what does that look like in the church? We are going to look at three main points from the text and then reflect on some applications:
1) The Spirit is the Mark of Inclusion in the Church (Galatians 3:1-6)
O foolish Galatians! Who has bewitched you? It was before your eyes that Jesus Christ was publicly portrayed as crucified. Let me ask you only this: Did you receive the Spirit by works of the law or by hearing with faith? Are you so foolish? Having begun by the Spirit, are you now being perfected by the flesh? Did you suffer so many things in vain--if indeed it was in vain? Does he who supplies the Spirit to you and works miracles among you do so by works of the law, or by hearing with faith-- just as Abraham "believed God, and it was counted to him as righteousness"?
Paul asks one question to the Gentile in the church who were contemplating circumcision: did you receive the Spirit by following the law of by coming to faith? The answer is obvious – they received the Spirit when they came to faith in Christ. So if they already have the Spirit – if they already have received all of the blessings of God within them, then what would be the point of being circumcised? Circumcision may have been the thing that kept you out of the Temple before, but now you are the Temple! Although the people who want you circumcised might look down on you as second-class Christians, God doesn’t, and the proof of that is his Spirit within and the miracles he is working among you. The Spirit is the mark of inclusion in the church, and as we read in Romans, if God is for you, who can be against you? At the end of this section, Paul brings up Abraham, our predecessor in the faith. In bringing up Abraham, Paul intends to demonstrate that:
2) God’s Promise Was Inclusive For All (Galatians 3:7-9)
Know then that it is those of faith who are the sons of Abraham. And the Scripture, foreseeing that God would justify the Gentiles by faith, preached the gospel beforehand to Abraham, saying, "In you shall all the nations be blessed." So then, those who are of faith are blessed along with Abraham, the man of faith.
Paul is doing here is diffusing the argument that his Gospel that Gentiles can come to God and be saved without becoming Jewish is not a new teaching that he made up. He goes back to the Old Testament, to the promise given to Abraham in Genesis 12:1-3, to show that it was from the beginning always God’s plan to bless the Gentile nations as Gentiles. God did not tell Abraham, in you the Jews will be blessed with anyone who become Jewish, but in you all the nations, the Jewish nation, the Gentile nations, all the nations will be blessed. The promise was that no one would have to deny their nationhood or ethnicity to find their blessing in God. That God gave the law to the Jewish people did not alter or negate in any way the promise He made to Abraham, which is what Paul argues in verses 15-18, especially verses 17:
This is what I mean: the law, which came 430 years afterward, does not annul a covenant previously ratified by God, so as to make the promise void.
So what happened? Why the separation? Why did God choose the Jews and give them the law and circumcision? Paul’s answer in verses 19-24, provides a radical new understanding of what God was going with the Jews in the Old Testament. He writes in verse 19:
Why then the law? It was added because of transgressions, until the offspring should come to whom the promise had been made, and it was put in place through angels by an intermediary.
Because of sin, God knew that if he did not choose one nation for himself, if he did not deal with one nation to communicate with in a special way, that because of the human nature of our heart to turn away to sin and away from God, the promises that he had made to Abraham would have been lost forever. The law was given to keep a people under God, passing down the promises and waiting for the promised one. In verses 23-26, Paul speaks of the law as a guardian that kept the Jews under the law until “the coming faith would be revealed” (verse 24). Paul message reveals that the law was never given with the intention of keeping Gentiles out of God’s blessings, but on the contrary, it was given to keep the Jews in, and by keeping the Jews in the blessings would come to all. So for a time, yes, while all Gentiles were free to believe in the God of Abraham, they were required to cross over the wall of circumcision to be fully included in the community, because keeping the community healthy was necessary to making sure that the promise would be successfully passed down until the Promised One, the Messiah came. However, now Christ has come! The promise has been fulfilled! Therefore:
3) Our Inclusion in Jesus is Free For All (3:26-29)
Remember that prayer that I told you that Jewish men prayed, “Thank you, God, for not making me a Gentile, woman or a slave”? Read Paul’s conclusion in verses 26-29:
for in Christ Jesus you are all sons of God, through faith. For as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ. There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is no male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.
Here is the fundamental message of the book of Galatians: we all come to Christ equally. As they say, the ground is level at the foot of the cross. There are no second-class citizens in the kingdom. These verses are not saying that Christ eradicates distinctions between Jews and Gentiles, male or female, etc. but that these distinctions no longer keep us from coming to God as we are. The Temple is now open for everyone because by faith, the Temple has taken up residence inside of us in the Holy Spirit. No one is to be excluded or looked down upon on the basis of their ethnicity, their gender, or their social position if they have come to Christ in sincere faith and have received the Holy Spirit.
We now can see why Paul got so angry with those who tried to assign second-class standing to the Gentiles and were urging their circumcision. They were denying that the Gospel is free for all. Paul writes in 5:1-6:
For freedom Christ has set us free; stand firm therefore, and do not submit again to a yoke of slavery. Look: I, Paul, say to you that if you accept circumcision, Christ will be of no advantage to you. I testify again to every man who accepts circumcision that he is obligated to keep the whole law. You are severed from Christ, you who would be justified by the law; you have fallen away from grace.
Here’s Paul’s judgment to the Gentile believers. To accept circumcision is to deny the immediacy of God’s grace and to reject the promise that God has made to you that Gentiles will inherit the blessings as Gentiles. You are putting yourself under the same system as before Christ came, making Christ of no advantage to you. You in fact will be turning from his grace. Paul concludes in verses 5-6:
For through the Spirit, by faith, we ourselves eagerly wait for the hope of righteousness. For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision nor uncircumcision counts for anything, but only faith working through love.
Jews come to Christ by faith. Gentiles come to Christ by faith. No other way remains available without denying Christ. In recognizing that all are equal before the cross we are able to love one another, accepting each other as full brothers and sisters in the kingdom and not a second-class citizens.
Application: What Does This Look Like in the Church?
1) We’ve Got To Be Very Careful About Excluding Others: Can people from races outside of Caucasian or Chinese find a home here? How about from other Asian countries like Korea or Japan? We do generally pretty well with those. Here’s some harder ones: Can the poor find a place here? Can someone who is struggling with the gender identity be able to even come in and hear the gospel? Could a non-highly educated adult come in and find a place here?
2) We Should Be as Inclusive as Christ: Did you know that we are the only Evangelical Free Church in Ottawa? We haven’t been a member of that denomination long, so I’m betting that for many of you, if someone came up to you and asked, “What does Evangelical Free mean” you wouldn’t be able to explain it. As I was studying for this message this week, I happened to pick up one of the books that I am reading for my ordination and I was struck by how relevantly they had taken principles from the book of Galatians and tried to apply them consistently as a denomination. In “The Significance of Silence” (13):
“This new organization was established on a very broad basis. The idea was to make room for all who believed in Christ and accepted the Bible as the Word of God . . . It was argued that if Jesus Christ, who is the head of the church, admitted all who believe in him in the Church as His body, upon what authority could an earthly organization exclude such believers.”
The book goes on to make the observation that most denominations distinguish themselves on the basis of one or two pet doctrines. Some distinguish themselves by their form of government: Congregationalists, Presbyterians, Episcopal; some by a certain leader: Lutherans, Mennonites, Wesleyans, Arminian; some by a particular theology: Reformed, Covenant, Baptist, Free Will, Seventh-Day Adventists. The point is we often define ourselves in exclusion to other Christian groups. So what is an Evangelical Free Church? It is one which recognizes that if you are good enough for Christ, you’re good enough for us. We are a church that intends to be made up of “believers only”, but also of “all believers”. It’s quite a novel experiment. What that means is that if you’re Calvinist in your understanding of the scriptures, you recognize that that wacky Arminian across the pew from you is filled with the same Holy Spirit and is a child of God just as you are. It means that although we encourage and teach believers baptism by immersion we are not going to exclude you from church membership if you believe otherwise. It means that we don’t dismiss you if you disagree with us in a non-essential manner of the faith and tell you, maybe you’ll feel more comfortable at another church down the street. Now, here’s the deal. I still have to preach and teach, so I am going to preach and teach out of my convictions, and I hope that if you disagree with me, you will show me the grace and respect I’ll try to show you, and understand that no one’s going to kick you out of the church because you have a different view of spiritual gifts than I do.
3) Free for All = a Free-For-All
To say that anyone comes does not mean that anything goes. Sin is not welcome. Heresy is not welcome. We are inclusive of people, not of opinions or acts. The Free in our name is bounded by the word “Evangelical” of the Gospel. You come into this family by one door and one door alone, the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ. People say, Oh that’s so exclusive! Look, there is no distinction: Jew, Gentile, Male, Female, young, old, rich, poor, black white brown red yellow purple whatever, all people come.